Written by Susan Wallace, a Certified Sleep Consultant and Baby Massage Educator
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone, which sends a message to the body to prepare for sleep. Understanding how to promote natural Melatonin production is one of the key indicators in promoting positive sleep for babies and toddlers.
Melatonin is light sensitive. Its production is compromised in a bright environment. Therefore in order to promote sleep it is important to keep the sleep environment as dark as possible.
I therefore recommend that children and babies are not exposed to ‘blue’ light in the hour before bedtime. Blue light is produced by televisions, computers, tablets and smart phones. Most babies do not require a night light to sleep – they do not tend to be afraid of the dark, given the womb itself was dark. However night lights can be usual for toddlers (who may be afraid of the dark) and for night feeds. In this instance I recommend using a red based light, such as a Himalayan Salt light (just ensure if is kept out of reach of children), as research suggests that red light is less disruptive to Melatonin production.
Another way to promote the natural production of evening Melatonin (thus encouraging night sleep) is to ensure your child is exposed to natural light during the day – and in particular the afternoon. This natural light will help to suppress Melatonin during the daylight hours, allowing the body to respond by promoting the production of Melatonin later that evening.
Ensuring a dark environment for sleep is therefore essential. Using good quality blackout blinds are a useful way to achieve this. I recommend that the best baby blackout blinds should not contain PVC, which is known to release harmful chemicals in to the air on exposure to light. Therefore blinds made from natural materials, such as the Organic Cotton blinds from the Pure Earth Collection are ideal.
Interestingly babies do not begin to make their own Melatonin until they are 6 – 8 weeks old. After this time, the importance of providing a dark environment at sleep time becomes paramount, if the promotion of positive sleep is desired.
Breastmilk contains small amounts of Melatonin in the evening milk – the purpose is thought to be to promote night / day differentiation in babies. It is therefore recommended that nursing mothers also enjoy a dark environment in the run up to bedtime, in order to increase their own naturally occurring Melatonin which they can then pass to their infant. It can also be advantageous if nursing mothers label any expressed milk, with the time it was expressed. This is to ensure that the evening milk, which has a higher Melatonin content is supplied to the baby at a similar time of day, in order to ensure that this ‘sleepy milk’ is used to its full advantage in sleep promotion.
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